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FOIA Package Clears Senate Committee

Legislation that would open up some records from the governor’s office and the Legislature cleared a Senate committee Tuesday (3/23) in the latest attempt to remove Michigan from the minority of states that do not currently allow access to such records, according to a report in Gongwer.

Members of the Senate Oversight Committee unanimously reported the 10-bill package after taking testimony last week.

Legislative attempts at opening the Legislature and governor’s office to the Freedom of Information Act have failed in several previous sessions despite attempts to improve the proposals. While the House has overwhelmingly passed similar bills, they haven’t moved as far.

Action on FOIA legislation has materialized rapidly this session, with the House passing a similar package unanimously last week. Like the Senate package, the bills would create the Legislative Open Records Act and expand FOIA to cover the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices.

Movement on the Senate bills is up to Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake). In a statement earlier this month, the majority leader said he was willing to review the proposal, adding he would weigh the balance between accountability for elected officials and potential unintended consequences for personal communications and constituent communications.

The majority leader does have a history of supporting open records legislation. Shirkey in the 2013-14 session introduced the first House bill of the session, FOIA legislation, which is now PA 563 of 2014.

The bill revised the fee calculations for FOIA, expanded the appeals process, capped the charge for copies of requested documents at 10 cents per page and raised the fines to public bodies that improperly deny or delay access to documents. The legislation also allowed for individuals to file suit against public bodies to dispute charges levied to process FOIA requests.

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